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Review: 'Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness'

Doctor Strange added his name to the Marvel movie roster in 2016. Since then, he has made cameo appearances in Thor: Ragnarok (2017), Avengers: Infinity War (2018), Avengers: End Game (2019) and Spider-Man: No Way Home (2021).

Being able to manipulate space and time, he wields great power, but along with that goes great responsibility and the possibility of screwing things up on a grand, cosmic scale.

The most recent example was the finale of Spider-Man: No Way Home which was a perfect springboard to set up his latest adventure.

He’s still dealing with some collateral damage, but before he can untangle any of that, he finds himself immersed in a Superhero fight with a giant one-eyed octopus who is pursuing a teenage girl from another universe by the name of America Chavez (played by Xochitl Gomez).

It’s the standard, building-smashing, vehicle-crunching encounter that is a staple of all Superhero movies. Massively destructive, but hugely predictable. You can’t kill your hero in the opening reel.

As it turns out, Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) and America Chavez are connected. What the doctor thinks is a frightening dream is actually reality—a reflection of events happening in another universe. It’s an ominous threat (another staple of all Superhero movies) which requires superhero skills, courage and determination to defeat.

And so, they embark on an adventure that spans the multiverse, in which they will encounter strange new worlds and parallel versions of themselves.

There was a day when Marvel Comics constituted its own universe, populated by a legion of larger than life heroes. According to CBS Sunday Morning, since the 1960s, 27,000 Marvel comics followed their exploits, referring to the Marvel saga as “the greatest story ever told.” At least in comic book terms.

So, how do you top that? Of course, you can cross-pollinate and have characters spill over into each other’s storylines. The Marvel movies have already begun to do just that in recent years.

You would think that would open up enough story possibilities to last for decades, but apparently the folks at Marvel are looking at the much bigger picture and going for broke by introducing the multiverse concept in which any one of their many characters can have multiple story lines and plot threads across alternate, parallel universes.

From a creative writing standpoint, it really opens things up. The possibilities are virtually limitless.

We’ve already seen some of the tantalizing story twists that the multiverse concept in Spider-Man: No Way Home in which three different versions of Spider-Man played by three different actors all appeared in the same movie. It was brilliant.

It’s a plot twist foreshadowed in J.J. Abrams movie Star Trek (2009) when young Spock (Zachary Quinto) meet his older self (Leonard Nimoy) in a an unforgettable movie moment for the ages. I still recall my reaction. It really worked.

My concern is that this device might become as overused as many of the other elements of superhero movies that have become overly familiar and worn out.

Creating a multiverse is a spectacular idea. It’s a question of what the studios do with it.

It’s the cinematic equivalent of splitting the atom. It’s a game changer but where do you go from there? There is potential for both good and bad.

In the case of Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness, the multiverse concept opens up the possibility of jumping back and forth through parallel universes in a frantic attempt to stop an evil character from acquiring the power of ultimate control. And that’s nothing new in the realm of superhero movies.

In this case, it’s all about the Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen, channeling Maleficent) and her desire to rob America of her special powers so that she can transform her fantasies of motherhood and parental bliss into reality. It’s not so much about becoming the god of the multiverse as much as it is a desire to find personal happiness.

Director Sam Raimi returns to the director’s chair in a much-anticipated movie that fans have dreamed of. He’s a legend, and in many ways, the best choice to helm this bold step into Multiverse of Madness.

The Sam Raimi touch is back, as are all the required special effects scenes that audiences expect to see. The problem here is that we’ve seen all the fights, battles and special effects before. There is little that is new here.

The story, despite the dramatic jumps to alternate realities is pretty simplified and stripped down. What remains are story elements borrowed from other movies. A secret book of incantations. Fiery portals into other worlds. The dead, returning as zombies. The Illuminati.

We’ve seen a lot of this before.

It remains to be seen whether Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness will be the first of the major summer blockbusters this year. Fans of Doctor Strange and fans of Marvel movies will embrace it, that’s a given. It will have a huge opening weekend.

Anyone not up to speed with Doctor Strange or the other backstories laid out in previous movies or streaming services or shows like WandaVision (2021), might be left out in the cold.

As the multiverse expands, so does the madness that lies within it.


Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness is in theaters now.


Photo Credits: ©Marvel Studios 2022. All Rights Reserved.

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